Egypt Goes Off the Net

Last night, Egypt severed its connections with the wider Internet. (Coverage from the New York Times and Global Voices, for example, and see coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks.) There are at least two worrisome implications of this move. First, Egyptian protesters are using the Net to coordinate, and to keep in touch with supporters outside the country. Second, if Egypt’s government is planning a crackdown – and that seems likely – they will want to minimize Tiananmen-style footage.

Those who decry this tactic – and I’m among them – should note that former cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke has advocated that the U.S. have exactly this type of capability: he openly admires China’s ability to pull up the drawbridge at its international gateways. (See pages 147-148, and 216, of his book “Cyber War.”) While U.S. law, and traditions, regarding free speech protect us against an Egyptian-style blackout, it’s worrisome to confer this level of absolute technological veto on a state.

2 Responses to “Egypt Goes Off the Net”

  1. The US government already has the capability. I have no doubt that DHS has a list in a drawer of who to call if they want to shut down US internet routers, and would send agents if necessary to shut it down and argue with the ACLU later. Heck, the NSA could probably DDOS the critical routers before the DHS had time to pick up the phone. And I’m not even a conspiracy theorist.

    The argument is whether they should have the authority. Capability is a foregone conclusion.

  2. I actually read this article the other day in Wired about “kill-switch legislation”:

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/01/kill-switch-legislation/

    Does the US government already have this power?

    Also, I completely agree that “turning off the internet” was a pretty shameful act on the part of the Egyptian government, but I thought it was fascinating to see how people organized and communicated in the absence of the internet. I saw this the other day:

    http://www.dailytexanonline.com/content/no-internet-no-problem-protesters-communicate-comics

    Impressive, to say the least.